SHAFAQNA(Shia International News Association)--The French ambassador to the United Nations has said that his country launched a military intervention in Mali because it believed that the existence of the country was at stake.
Gerard Araud told a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday that France was responding to calls for help from the government of the former French colony.
Hours earlier, rebel fighters in Mali responded to French airstrikes and military action with a counter-offensive,overrunning the town of Diabaly, French and Malian authorities confirmed.
Araud said France had "no other choice" but to help the Malian government.
"We will defend [the capital] Bamako. We will not let the southern part of the country, with its 13 million inhabitants, fall to terrorist groups," said Araud.
Al-Qaeda-linked rebels overran the garrison village of Diabaly in central Mali, France's defence minister said in Paris on Monday.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said the rebels "took Diabaly after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army that couldn't hold them back"'.
The Malian military is in disarray and has let many towns fall with barely a shot fired since the rebellion began almost a year ago in the northwest African nation.
French military forces, who began battling in Mali on Friday, widened their aerial bombing campaign against the rebels occupying northern Mali, launching airstrikes for the first time in central Mali to combat the new threat.
Al Jazeera's correspondent Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from the capital Bamako, said: "There are reports of about 60 fighters being killed thus far while Doctors without Borders say they are very concerned about the lives of civilians in the region."
The rebels, who come from several nations besides Mali, had been bottled up in the narrow neck of central Mali. But by now sweeping in from the west, they are now only 400km from Bamako, in southern Mali.
Before France sent its forces in on Friday, the closest known spot the rebels were to the capital was 680km away, although they might have infiltrated closer than that.
'Africanisation' of conflict
France is urging the "Africanisation" of the conflict, encouraging African nations to send troops to fight the rebels.
Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, said on Monday the United States was already providing intelligence-gathering assistance to the French in their assault on the rebels.
Besides France and the US, 11 other nations have pledged troops or logistical support.
Over the weekend, Britain authorised the deployment of several C-17 transport planes to help the French military effort.
Mali's north, an area the size of France itself, was occupied by al-Qaeda-linked rebels nine months ago, following a coup in the capital.
In December, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a military intervention, but only after an exhaustive list of pre-emptive measures were fulfilled, starting with training the Malian military, which was supposed to take the lead in the offensive.
All of which changed in a matter of hours last week, when French intelligence services spotted two rebel convoys heading south, one on the mostly east-west axis of Douentza to the garrison towns of Mopti and Sevare, and a second heading from a locality north of Diabaly toward Segou, the administrative capital of Central Mali.
Had either Segou or Mopti fallen, many feared that the rebels could advance toward the capital. That concern was the main factor that prompted the swift intervention.